Tag Archives: History

When you can no longer say ‘I didn’t know’ … it’s time to #changethedate

Thirty years ago today, I was a schoolgirl standing in the crowds around Sydney Harbour watching a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet 200 years before. I didn’t know then that at the same moment, the largest protest in Australia since the Vietnam War was happening just down the street.

I didn’t know then that the day I had been singing about as the “celebration of a nation” was for many others felt and remembered as “Invasion Day”, “Day of Mourning” and “Survival Day.” 

I didn’t know then that the Prime Minister was making a promise that day that there would be a treaty with our indigenous peoples within two years, a treaty that has still not eventuated, making Australia the only Commonwealth country without one.

I didn’t know then that sixteen years earlier, a tent embassy had been established outside Parliament House as a response to our nation’s refusal to recognise the rights of our indigenous peoples. I had caught a glimpse of that tent while on a school excursion two years prior, but I certainly hadn’t been told what it was or had that story included in our introduction to our country’s (white) history.

I didn’t know then that fifty years earlier, Aboriginal men had been locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stable and then forced to be unwilling participants in an (inaccurate) re-enactment of the events of 150 years prior.

I didn’t know then that the mortality rate of indigenous children in Australia is twice that of non-indigenous children, or that there is a life expectancy gap of between 10 and 17 years.

I didn’t know then the words “stolen generations.” I had never heard them and would be horrified to discover what they mean.

I didn’t know then a single Aboriginal person. I hadn’t heard their stories, been welcomed onto their lands, been embraced by their communities, sung together as sisters and brothers, learned from their incredibly rich and diverse cultures.

And I didn’t know then that as well as my First Fleet ancestors whom I was taught to take such pride in, I have ancestors who participated in massacres of indigenous Australians. That this, too, is my history.

I didn’t know then. But I know now.

And now that I know, I can’t find today a day of celebration.

Now that I have learned, I can’t pretend that this doesn’t affect me or touch my life.

Now that I have listened, I can’t ignore the pain and hurt that has been shared with me by those who carry it.

That’s why I believe it’s time to #changethedate.

 

*Just to be clear, I do think 26 January should continue to be a day on which we acknowledge and remember the troubled history of this land and consider how we can work towards greater reconciliation and justice. But I think we should choose another day for our National Celebration Holiday.

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Walking through history, or today would be a good day to be in Budapest

I haven’t posted a Monday travel reflection in a while, but today I’m thinking I’d love to go back to the city of Budapest for another wander. Hungary is still a country I admit to knowing very little about – culture, history, food, people. But I truly loved spending a few days walking the streets of its capital city and getting just a tiny glimpse of some of those things.

One thing I’ve learned about myself through travel is that I make sense of a place by walking it. And walking helps me connect with its history too. Imagining those who have walked before, gaining insight into their lives and experiences, never fails to inspire, challenge, move and teach me.

What did I love about Budapest?

The architecture.

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The Hungarian Parliament building on the Pest side of the Danube is stunning …

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… as is the Castle on the Buda side.

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Linking the two sides of the city are a number of bridges, including the impressive Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

There are beautiful churches …

… as well the lovingly restored Dohány Street Synagogue.

Nationalistic pride is on display in different ways from the military memorial at Heroes Square,

to the reliquary supposedly holding St Stephen’s right hand in the Basilica.

I’m a bibliophile, and Budapest had one of the best and most beautiful bookcafes I have ever been to, the Alexandra Bookcafe, although sadly it has apparently recently closed.

What did I learn from Budapest?

What you can’t miss wandering the streets of this city are the memorials everywhere. Testaments to not just life, but death and brutality. Those who were “disappeared” under the Soviet regime.

Those who were deliberately and publicly exterminated en masse.

Jews have a long history in Hungary, and made up almost a quarter of the population at the beginning of World War II. Up to three quarters of these people did not survive the war.

 

I’ve been to a number of Holocaust Museums around the world, but found Budapest’s one of the most moving, with its honest accounts of the harrowing story and lists of thousands upon thousands of names.

It is housed in a renovated synagogue, and at the back of the prayer hall there are ‘ghost seats’ for the members of the congregation who did not return.

In the Jewish cemetery, Imre Varga’s weeping willow statue bearing the family names of murdered Jews is hauntingly beautiful.

For me personally, perhaps most affecting was the memorial called “Shoes on the Danube River” which marks the spot where 3,500 people were ordered to take off their shoes before they were shot into the river by the Arrow Cross militia.

I’ve been similarly moved by piles of shoes at Auschwitz in Poland and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. There is something simply profound in imagining the lives of those who once walked in a pair that has been left behind.

How does that speak into how I think about where my shoes will be walking this day?

Today would be a good day to be in Petra

Petra makes it on to plenty of lists of places you ‘must see before you die’ and ‘wonders of the world.’ It has appeared in numerous movies and books. It certainly is a beautiful and impressive place. It is somewhere I could easily revisit as I’m sure there is much more to explore. It is an impressive looking place! But as I reflect on it today, I’m also realising that the time I’ve spent there hasn’t really left me with much of a lasting impression of what it means or who it represents.

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What did I love about Petra?

Petra was unknown to the western world until the early 1800s and its not hard to see why. Looking out over the rugged landscape, it is difficult for those of us unused to this kind of region to imagine such a city is to be found hidden in there.

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Petra is sometimes called “The Rose City” due to the colour of the rocks. They are absolutely stunning, whether from far away or close up.

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The entrance to the site is through a 1.2km long siq, or narrow gorge. Along it runs the remains of an ancient aqueduct, as well as some carvings such as this worn image of a camel caravan.

camel-sculpture

There is a moment all travellers experience of seeing the impressive Treasury building suddenly come in to view through the narrow chasm of the siq that has a “wow” factor like few other places in the world.

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The treasury building (Al-Khazneh) is Petra’s most recognisable image and standing in front of it certainly provokes awe. Interestingly, however, it is basically a façade. There is nothing inside but an empty, uncarved room. My understanding is that rather than a storehouse for treasure as the name suggests, it was a mausoleum, a place to honour the dead.

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The theatre in Petra is at first glance similar to many Roman theatres I’ve seen elsewhere … until you realise that while they were built using rocks, this was carved out of the existing rocks. I love the idea that like Michelangelo who could see a stunning statue of David in a lump on rock, the Nabateans who built this place could imagine and then create this from the natural material already there.

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What did I learn from Petra?

Each time I have been to Petra I have seen new things – both because I have walked into new corners of the site, and because new parts of the site have been uncovered by archaeologists.

ruins

Amongst the guides I’ve had, there is some debate about whether some of the rock hewn dwellings were houses or tombs, places for the living or for the dead. Either way, the time and skill displayed by these people (without modern tools!) is impressive.

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Petra was home to the Nabateans and it remains their primary legacy. Unlike the Romans, whose structures and artefacts are found all over the place, it is really the only thing they are remembered for. For me, however, it seems a somewhat confusing legacy – raising more questions than answers about who they were and what they valued and why they did what they did.

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So like many ancient sites, Petra reminds me that what we leave behind in this world, impressive as it may be, can never capture the complexity of who we are and how we live. That is found only in our relationships and our impact on other people, which cannot be seen in our structures or possessions or bank accounts …

sunsetAs the sun sets over Petra above, as the sun sets at the end of each day, its worth asking the question of how we are investing ourselves in the things that will truly last. Am I working on things that merely look impressive or investing in that which has greater substance and ongoing influence? Because one day the sun will set on my life, and I’m not sure I’d want people to look at what is left behind and think “Looks great, but what does it mean?”